2021 brings the human element back to technology
When looking ahead to 2021, there’s certainly a lot to be said about AI and machine learning, IoT, multicloud, hybrid cloud and cloud native. But this time, I want to look at other larger issues that will continue to affect technology companies and their customers, as well as society as a whole, in 2021 and beyond.
Prediction #1: Hiring without a degree requirement
Back in the 1950s-60s, many programmers didn’t have college degrees, but were self-taught or apprenticed. Starting in the 1970s, though, degrees started to become “mandatory,” as computer science professionals began to join the ranks of engineers.
But as the cost of technical degrees continues to skyrocket, we face a shortage of degreed software engineers. I predict that this year we’ll see cloud vendors, partners and application developers begin hiring without a degree requirement — with Amazon and others industry giants taking the lead. Instead, employers will focus on the person’s ability, desire and drive in order to expand their talent options and improve competitive advantage.
Individuals with a passion for technology can become qualified for many of the latest jobs in a fraction of the time and cost it takes to get a degree. There are numerous online educational platforms, as well as leading vendor programs such as AWS Training and Certification, Microsoft Learn for Azure, Google Cloud Training and VMware Learning that can provide the foundations necessary to be successful in these new technical jobs — developing, integrating, running, and optimizing in the cloud.
Prediction #2: Increased focus on diversity
I predict that the technology industry will increase its focus on diversity in 2021, because, quite simply, diversity gets results. Back in my days at IBM in the 1980s and early 1990s, we understood that leaving people out is never a good idea, so diversity was the norm. But the technology industry as a whole did not follow suit. I shudder to think what inventions, cures and new ideas have been lost because of this.
Thanks to innovative programs like OneTen, a coalition of leading executives coming together to “upskill, hire and advance one million Black Americans over the next 10 years into family-sustaining jobs with opportunities for advancement,” we’re one step closer to creating equitable, diverse workforces.
I also predict there will also be a shift toward more diversity in terms of product and service development, as businesses consider more-inclusive designs. Today’s products and services, many with a worldwide target audience, must serve or be customizable to serve a wide array of people in different cultures, languages, backgrounds and sensitivity points. But even at a more localized level, we see dramatic diversity of people that these offerings target — think New York City, London, Dubai or Singapore, for example. How many products and services performed less well and failed customers due to lack of holistic testing for such diverse target markets?
Prediction #3: Automation will redefine lower-skilled and semi-skilled roles
From restaurants to retail to office operations, automation technology is set to transform entry-level positions in 2021. Especially given the proposed minimum wage increase in the US, employers will accelerate automation projects based on robot process automation (RPA), online experiences and, eventually, physical robots.
But this doesn’t necessarily mean employers will be reducing the number of jobs. Instead, employers will take this opportunity to reskill their personnel and reinvest in their human capital — so these workers can focus on higher value and creative activities around personal service and quality. Employees will start thinking of their careers in terms of working alongside of and adding value to the automation. They will not only get paid more for this, but they have the potential to have a more-rewarding job experience.
Prediction #4: Holistic security solutions will combine AI and the intelligence of experts
Every day, we give precious data about ourselves and our businesses over to useful online applications and entities. Our personal online presence and enterprise presence know no boundary and the old “castle” firewall-based security models are woefully insufficient.
To keep data safe, businesses are attempting to create a holistic view of security, with dozens of security products deployed in a typical enterprise. But how are these all tied together? My prediction is there will be a lot of focus on marrying AI and the intelligence of experts for a new level of security to ward off innovative threats. The solution will combine human experts and proactive intelligent agents in a security operations center (SOC) with a consolidated view of threat intelligence, security analytics, alerts and response services deployed and managed across multicloud environments.
But what about the sanctity of your data? How do you know it’s not being altered unbeknownst to you? A wide range of data management and storage technologies were invented for just about every type of data and use case. One of the most recent data technologies to make its appearance is blockchain. Its main feature? An immutable data management system, meaning once data is recorded it is a permanent record.
Blockchain represents an ideal platform for zero trust data. According to Gartner, blockchain is in the trough of disillusionment, but will be emerging in 2021. The features and supporting ecosystem around blockchain-based technologies is still immature and more learning is to be had in 2021. But watch this space as blockchain begins to move out of the trough of disillusionment in 2021.
Prediction #5: Business-benefit marketing will make a comeback
With cloud computing trade shows moving online in 2020, I was able to attend more events than usual last year. Aside from them being very well done, one thing stood out to me: they all led with technology and product announcements, rather than stories about business value.
Of course, they all featured customer testimonials and stories. But they missed out on how these technologies make a real difference for businesses. I believe the marketing pendulum will swing back toward key value points in 2021, such as delivering superior customer experiences, driving new revenue streams and optimizing economics, inventing new business models, creating business resiliency and agility, and fortifying security and compliance.
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